The Challenge of History: An Interview with William Lane Craig
The most distinctive claim about Christianity in relation to other world religions is that Christianity says that God has revealed himself in history. As British theologian, Alan Richardson, has stated: “The Christian faith…is bound up with certain happenings in the past, and if these happenings could be shown never to have occurred, or to have been quite different from the biblical-Christian account of them, then the whole edifice of Christian faith, life and worship would be found to have been built on sand.”
At this time of Christmas, we celebrate the central event in world-history that God became man in Jesus Christ. Today this claim is under assault in a variety of ways. Some claim it’s a myth; others assert that it’s a meaningless statement because it is impossible to really know the past. AP asked William Lane Craig, Research Professor in Philosophy at Talbot Theological Seminary, Los Angeles, what he thought about these views.
Why is history so important to the Christian faith?
History is crucial to Christianity because it keeps the Christian faith from degenerating into mythology. Unless the Bible is rooted in actual historical events, there is no reason to think that Jesus of Nazareth should be any more determinative for my life today than so-called gods like Thor, Odin or Zeus or any other mythological deity. History is the vital component in Christianity because it grounds faith in fact and keeps it from being mere myth.
Do other religions have a similar interest in history?
Yes, but only in a relative sense. Other religions certainly have an historical component. One thinks of Judaism, for example, where at least among orthodox Jews, God’s acts in history like the Exodus are very important. God’s rescue of the Israelites from Egypt is the central miracle of the Old Testament. Again, history plays some role in Islam. For instance, the coming down of the Qur’an out of heaven to Muhammad is purported to be an historical event and is believed by Muslims to be God’s revelation to him.
So there are historical elements in these faiths, but they don’t have the same significance as historical events in Christianity. The reason for this is that one’s salvation in Judaism and in Islam is not a matter of historical facts; it’s a matter of being obedient to certain sorts of prescribed activities or regulations. Although these regulations arose in a certain historical context, that context doesn’t really affect the practice of the piety of those religions in any way. However, in Christianity it’s entirely different. In Christianity the saving acts of God are themselves historical acts. So if you were to remove the historicity of Jesus or the historicity of the cross, the whole basis for atonement and salvation would be removed.
So, in one sense, it’s true that history is important to these other faiths; but historical facts do not occupy the central role that the saving acts of God do in Christianity…
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